On one hand, we have (and have always had) Michael Jackson, a man whose behavior couldn’t have been more perfectly aligned with the characteristics we would normally associate with a pedophile, but without any of the evidence required to make a credible case. Just evidence of weird behavior, but weird behavior that if anyone I knew personally exhibited them, we wouldn’t have a relationship. We’d have a problem.
All of that would be true whether the film Leaving Neverland existed or not. With the film we have two alleged victims (Wade Robson and James Safechuck) who couldn’t have less credibility, and who now only present their recanted word as evidence.
These quandaries are captured in a documentary that isn’t really a documentary as we have come to use them, and that owes its existence, not to new evidence or facts or a continued search for the truth, but to the zeitgeist, to the moment we find ourselves in as a society. Without the #MeToo movement we don’t have this film, and yet there is something about the film that does not live up to the spirit of “believe the victim.” Not only is there nothing new here for the person who has had more than a passing relationship with the timeline of these accusations, but there is plenty of easily had information about at least one of the narrators – Wade Robson – to cast serious doubt on his motivations and character. For information like, say, Robson’s relationship with Jackson’s niece to be left out isn’t some mere oversight; it is editing done toward a specific narrative. The film is dedicated to one thing and one thing only: making Jackson seem as guilty as possible. It is a deposition relying on its audience’s unwillingness to do any homework to propel it to the level of legitimate inquiry. It is an emotional appeal, designed to obliterate reason by sheer volume and repetition of an explosively gross and compelling narrative. This film is literally a case being tried in the court of public opinion, since no actual criminal arena will grant these two men another run before a judge based on what they have. Watching the documentary didn’t change anything legally for me.
“For me” is what all of this really boils down to when things hit the legal wall, really. Not what you, the reader, has to live with, but what I have to live with. I had lost nearly all interest in Michael Jackson as a celebrity a long time ago, but what will I do with “Off the Wall”? What will it mean when “Human Nature” comes on the radio? I don’t yet know, but I know that the answers are mine, and that there is sometimes a double-taking difference between the bluster of what we put into the world as a standard and a moment in a backyard cookout when “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” comes on.
I absolutely believe that Michael Jackson was capable of molesting a child. Blame that on his own long-documented behavior, words, and deeds. There is no smoking gun for what this film lays out, but then there rarely is in such cases. These types of crimes overwhelmingly come down to someone’s word, or the inability of a pedophile to hide their crime. In almost any other case I have taken a victim at their word. I do not hold up Jackson’s music or place in history so high that I cannot accept the possibility that he may have committed a crime, or many. But the failure of Leaving Neverland is that it doesn’t take these questions seriously, does not care that the questions it raises it cannot answer, all while suggesting it is full of truths. It is yet another Hollywood-facing survey of the masses that doesn’t clear the honesty bar, a vomitous temperature-taking of people’s pulses in aid of a court case to come because why not? Social media has pushed the needle on everything from politics to how news is defined, changed the way we speak and read and care. Why not use it to shore up attention denied by a court of law? As a herd we have certainly done more with less.
The question of whether or not Michael Jackson molested children is one that should be answered if it can be. Leaving Neverland isn’t remotely interested in doing that in a way that doesn’t feel like titillation or a money grab. It leaves every stone unturned in the interest of the one story it desires to tell poorly, and that is its biggest crime.